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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


By S.K. Epperson
Donald I. Fine, 298 pp, 1992

This is a fine novel, suspenseful, scary at times, with likeable characters and skilled writing. I've never heard of this writer before, but she does have a few others published, mostly from the early and mid 1990s. I got this from the library, which had a few more of her books.

Vic Kimmler, a down-on-his-luck former vice cop, has inherited his late father's farm in Denke, Kansas. Eager to get a fresh start, Kimmler moves his two young girls there from Kansas City, along with his good friend Nolan Wulf. Vic's had a rough few years - his wife died after a long and expensive illness, and to pay the bills, Vic sold cocaine. He was caught and asked to resign. He did so and has been struggling since. He's hoping the farm, which supposedly has some valuable stud horses, will make some money for him.

But Denke isn't what it seems, which is true for nearly all small towns in horror novels. The locals seem friendly but Vic and Nolan discover that they have some truly strange and murderous traditions, started since the Denkes founded the town in the late 1800s.

Myra and her son Cal could tell them some about it. She worked for Vic's dad and lives in a trailer on the farm. The locals have been harassing her because she's an outsider and they want her gone, but she thinks it's her late husband's mother, who wants Cal to live with her.

So that's the setup.

Vic and Nolan aren't very likeable at first, especially after we discover Vic's a former crooked cop. Nolan is also a former cop and fireman, but he doesn't treat women well. Epperson, to her credit, makes these two likeable by the end, so we care what happens to them.

I don't know if she intended this, but her book seems to make a statement about the power of tradition. Denke locals do what they do because that's the way it's always been done. Few of them ask any questions or second-guess what they're doing. Maybe blind faith in tradition isn't such a good thing. Maybe tradition should be challenged more often.

Then again, maybe the author didn't gave a rat's you-know-what about tradition and just wanted to write a good book.

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